When nearly 200 students from all over the world flock to the Viennese Alps for isa – the International Summer Academy of the mdw each August, every single one of them has already been through an extensive selection process. Because for 32 years now, isa has been aimed exclusively at the absolute elite among up-and-coming young artists. Those who’ve managed to be selected for master class participation by the internationally renowned tutors are rewarded with intense artistic encounters and that holistic creative experience for which isa is so well known.
At this year’s 32nd edition of isa, whose motto “Always anew” invited participants to place the positive power of creativity and the motivation to start over and reinvent oneself at the centre of their artistic work and reflection, Israeli pianist Yuval Shmila was among the students. Yuval allowed mdw Magazine to spend an entire day accompanying her.The day on which we encounter Yuval is that of the isaChallenge, a competition held as part of the course. Yuval’s alarm goes off at seven in the morning, today, allowing her to grab a light breakfast and still have time for a short morning hike (which is what her usual morning walk has turned into at isa) with a few other students before the day’s jam-packed schedule begins.
Back at the hotel, Yuval relaxes for a moment before heading out for the third of altogether four lessons that she’ll be having in the master class of Boris Berman. Together with the professor, she works on the second movement of Joseph Haydn’s Piano Sonata in D Major, Hob. XIV:42, with which she’ll present herself later today in the Challenge Concert at Schloss Gloggnitz.
After her lesson, though, Yuval first takes the opportunity to attend Clive Brown and Stephan Gottfried’s workshop Historical Performance Practice, Always anew together with other students. Brown provides fascinating insights concerning the sources on which he draws in in his pioneering research on 19th-century performing styles and practices. And together with Stefan Gottfried, who’s been on a constant search for new insights and sources of inspiration since taking over the Concentus Musicus as its artistic director, Brown then leads a lively discussion with Yuval and her colleagues about long-standing (historical) performance practice conventions.
Of the approximately 20 such workshops and lectures that isa22 has organised to go along with the master classes, Yuval has already attended “Contemporary Playing Techniques and Repertoire” with Hsin-Huei Huang and “Vibrant Bodies – The Franklin Method” with Andrea von der Emde during the past two days. And over the next few days, if time allows, Yuval is also looking to book a Career Strategy Coaching session with Andreas Vierziger as well as take part in the workshop “Talking to the Audience” with the audience engagement specialist and Ö1 radio personality Ulla Pilz.
For today, however, all that’s left for Yuval to focus on is her instrument. Following a quick lunch at the hotel, her next stop is the 2 p.m. dress rehearsal for the Challenge Concert, which is scheduled for five o’clock. “Aren’t you at all nervous?” we ask Yuval, who still seems quite calm. “I’m getting there,” she admits, “because over the past few days, I’ve learned just HOW much the awards you can win at the Challenge Concert are coveted by the students here—and I suspect it’ll be anything but easy to end up near the top, today!”
Luckily, though, there’s a bit of time left between the dress rehearsal and the concert. Yuval takes advantage of this break to explore Schloss Gloggnitz—the first written mention of which was in 1094—beyond its impressive historic ceremonial hall, which serves as the Challenge location for the voice and piano master classes. “Do you like it?” we ask Yuval as she takes a selfie. “It’s wonderful, here, a very inspiring place!” And with a mischievous grin, she adds: “I’ve read that though this place was built by the Benedictines as a fortified monastery, it’s now famous as a castle for people to get married in, and I’ll be remembering that!” Fortified with lots of fresh air and wonderful impressions, she makes a timely return to the backstage area and the other students who’ll present themselves to the audience and jury along with her in the Challenge concert.
The 21-year-old pianist ultimately succeeds in wowing the jury, which consists of the voice and piano master class tutors as well as Johannes Meissl, artistic director of isa and one of the mdw’s vice rectors. Ex aequo with her colleague Tomer Kviatek, Yuval wins the Pianists’ Award, provided by L. Bösendorfer Klavierfabrik GmbH, Vienna/Wiener Neustadt to recognise an outstanding performance by a participant in the Masterclass for Piano.
It goes without saying that after such a day, one’s in a celebratory mood. But before Yuval takes off to wind down together with her colleagues, she allows herself a few minutes in the expensive park belonging to Parkhotel Hirschwang, which is where she’s staying. With the Rax towering overhead, Yuval studies the programmes of the upcoming isaFestival concerts. The crowning conclusion of isa22 will be the final concert featuring all of the prizewinners at Schloss Reichenau. And as of today, Yuval is sure: “That concert will also be the highlight of my own academic year!”